Coach Cassie Runs a Marathon: Staying Active and Fighting Pancreatic Cancer with Cassie Rubley

Cassie Rubley has been doing CrossFit for nearly ten years. She owns a CrossFit gym with her boyfriend in Grand Haven, Michigan where she grew up. Being active has become a huge part of Rubley’s life, especially after her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Since then, CrossFit has allowed her to not only fuel her fitness but also fight for a cause. Now, she is running with Project Purple at the Detroit Half Marathon to honor her mother and to contribute to Project Purple’s mission of a world without pancreatic cancer.

Note: If you would like to donate to Cassie’s fundraising page, click here.

Love is About Selflessness 

Rubley has always loved being active. As a young girl, Rubley was heavily involved in gymnastics and would practice at a facility about an hour outside of her hometown of Grand Haven. Even with the far distance, Rubley’s family made it work. Her mother, her biggest supporter, took Rubley to and from the gym whenever she had practice, always waiting for her daughter with a smile at the end of the workout. Rubley could not have been more thankful to have a mother that was so supportive.

“Her selflessness and dedication to that sport is something I think about often,” said Rubley, “When you’re young, you don’t necessarily realize how lucky you are…My mom was just very selfless and dedicated to her family.”

Throughout her young adulthood, Rubley struggled to find something she was passionate about. The only thing that seemed to stick was her love of fitness. In college, she discovered a new movement in exercise, CrossFit. Immediately, she fell in love, emulating the workouts during her own morning exercise routines. Finally, her friend invited her to take a CrossFit class with her.

“I pretty much haven’t turned back since then,” Rubley admits. “I really love the community aspect of it and how it’s constantly varied, always challenging, never boring.”

She maintained her connection with fitness even as she changed majors, careers, and eventually her education when she went back to grad school to become an occupational therapist. By this time, Rubley had taken up coaching part-time at various gyms while she worked to get her license.

However, Rubley’s plans were derailed when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

“Around the time that I was wrapping up with grad school, my mom got sick,” Rubley explained. “It really felt like the perfect storm… It just felt like my world was falling apart all at once.” 

Her mother was diagnosed in 2017. Rubley didn’t know much about the disease at the time, other than the fact that pancreatic cancer does not always have a good prognosis. 

“I can remember very vividly when I got the phone call from my dad,” said Rubley. “She was having some digestive issues, she thought she might have an allergy to something. So she went to the doctor and they told her that it was a gallstone, but upon further examination, they realized it was a tumor.”

Rubley’s mother was able to receive the Whipple procedure and the odds started turning in her mother’s favor. She started chemotherapy treatments soon after her surgery in the hope that once it was over, her mother would be cancer-free.  

Rubley did her best to help her family interpret the medical jargon that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. She also did her best to spend as much time as possible with her mother by going on walks or taking her out onto Traverse Lake, which was near their home. 

“You learn that you have to cherish every single moment and still have hope,” Rubley said upon remembering what that time was like for her and her family. “But at a certain point, you have to let go and just continue to love her for the time that you have left.” 

Unfortunately, after Rubley’s mother finished chemotherapy following her procedure, her tumor markers began to rise once more. They never came back down.

Rubley remembers her mother’s decline in the last few months of her life, and how painful it was to watch her mother suffer.

“She was very clearly declining, but in the last month or so, it was a really rapid decline, just mentally too,” said Rubley. “It was hard to watch her no longer be herself.”

Sadly, Rubley’s mother passed away on September 3, 2019. Even after four years, Rubley still feels the powerful sting of that loss.

CrossFit, Community, and Wholistic Fitness 

Because of her mother’s diagnosis, Rubely never passed her board examinations to become a licensed occupational therapist. Looking back, she thinks that this was likely a blessing in disguise, as it pushed her to fully commit to her true passion: CrossFit. 

During her coaching career, Rubley found that she wanted to do more in her sport. So, she and her boyfriend decided to open their own gym in 2018. Train Grand Haven CrossFit has been her home ever since. 

“I truly think I’m pursuing what my heart is passionate about, which is health and fitness,” Rubley said.

However, the CrossFit community has led Rubley not just towards her passion, but her greatest source of comfort. Throughout her mother’s diagnosis, Rubley kept up with her training as best she could, leaning heavily on the mental clarity of the exercise, as well as the strong support system the gym provided. 

“I would say that CrossFit and the community that it is has been an ongoing system of support for me,” Rubley said, “I have been able to connect with many other people who have lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer. I think it’s really isolating. Sometimes I feel like it can be hard to relate to other people sometimes that are my age who still have their mother or their father.”

Since her mother’s passing, Rubley has found a new appreciation for health and fitness. Though she was dedicated to an active lifestyle before, she has now taken on a more holistic approach to wellness, focusing not just on her physical health, but her mental health as well. 

“I will never take for granted being healthy of mind and body and I think it’s just so very important to take care of yourself,” said Rubley, “and I don’t think you can just have physical health or just mental health. I think that they are both of equal importance. And I do think that if I’m not taking care of myself I can’t be a good business partner, I can’t be a good coach. I just think the two are interrelated, you can’t have one without the other.”

She states that CrossFit for her allows her to channel her negative emotions in a positive way, while also taking care of her physical health. 

“When you’re in a CrossFit class or doing a CrossFit workout, it’s honestly a little hard to focus on anything else,” said Rubley. “I feel like I’m able to channel the sadness or the anger or whatever it may be into the workout and forget it for however long the workout may be.”

In honor of her mother, Rubley works every year to bring her community together to participate in Push Pull, a Project Purple program that encourages participants to work out for a good cause. She has hosted the event at Train Grand Haven for four years now, though she has participated in five in total. For her, the event allows her to bring the CrossFit community together for a cause that hits close to home for her and many others at the gym. 

“Push Pull has been huge for me, and just advocating for, not only my mom but for health and fitness and how important it is to take care of our bodies,” said Rubley. 

But now, Rubley wants to do more for the Project Purple community. She’s decided to take on a new challenge: running a marathon. 

Running with Rubley 

Rubley is now taking on a new physical challenge with her fellow gym members. She plans to run the Detroit Half Marathon with Project Purple. Shifting her mindset from CrossFit to running has presented Rubley with a new set of challenges she is happy to take on. 

“We run in CrossFit. I mean, I would never consider myself a runner, but I like to run,” said Rubley, “I think that CrossFit comes a little like second nature, I like the variety, and I think that with running, I know I can physically do it, it’s more the mental capacity to run for 13 miles. I think it’s just a different challenge and it’s important to try new things.” 

Rubley has been using a variety of training methods to get herself ready to run this marathon. She has been using interval training and hiking to start to get her body used to distance running. However, no matter what training method she’s using, Rubley returns to her mother, remembering the life she led. 

“One thing I try to emphasize is remembering her when she was healthy and happy because I can find myself getting stuck in that final month and just seeing her deteriorate,” said Rubely.  “So, I do try to focus on the gymnastic competitions, the family vacations, the boating, and the hiking. I do find that my mind wanders more towards the darker places when I’m running, so I really try to focus on the happy times that we shared with one another.” 

Getting into running has allowed Rubley more time to think about her mother, and more time to appreciate her mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer. She states that every time she runs, she remembers her mother’s battle, and that motivates her to continue to push herself. 

Getting into running has allowed Rubley more time to think about her mother, and more time to appreciate her mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer. She states that every time she runs, she remembers her mother’s battle, and that motivates her to continue to push herself. 

“Push Pull is absolutely in honor of my mom, but I guess the run feels even more so because it is a little bit more of a challenge to get myself to get the miles in,” said Rubley, “and I do try to remember when I’m running and it’s hard and I want to stop, I think about my mom and how hard she fought for so long despite very likely wanting to give up long before she did.” 

Now, Rubley lives her life in service of self-care, and helping others take care of themselves. She believes that living well is the best way to keep her mother’s memory alive. 

“In my mom’s honor, I want to take care of myself. She was very active and she did eat very healthy, so tomorrow is never promised, but I think that I want to take care of myself in honor of my mom.” 

If you are interested in supporting Cassie, please visit her fundraising page. For more information about how you can get involved with Project Purple, please click here. Thank you to Cassie and all those running to support our mission of a world without pancreatic cancer.

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